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Is Ike Boettger the Solution for the Buffalo Bills at Guard?

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Image via Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

The Bills’ Monday night win against the San Francisco 49ers was an exciting game to watch. Coming off an iffy performance against the 3-9 Los Angeles Chargers, Josh Allen & Co. reassured Bills Mafia that they are still one of the best units in the league, and it all started up front. Going up against a top-10 defense, the offense looked unstoppable (after the first and second* drives), according to ESPN.

After the Chargers’ Joey Bosa had a career game against the offensive line, a dangerous San Francisco front seven managed only a single sack of Allen on a Dion Dawkins whiff block. The difference? It could quite possibly be Ike Boettger.

A former reserve player who only received playing time last season in week 17’s underwhelming (and irrelevant) loss to the New York Jets, Boettger has seen a huge increase in playing time this season. The undrafted free agent from Iowa came in for an injured Cody Ford against the Kansas City Chiefs and then started in his place the following week against the Jets. Boettger has since played in every game, including starts in both of the Bills’ games in Arizona.

Buffalo’s interior line play has been shaky all season, with spotty and unpredictable performances and multiple position changes from week to week. Among them, we’ve seen Jon Feliciano play left, right, and center, Ford and Boettger play on either side, Quinton Spain lose his job, and Brian Winters play the role as a “human turntable”. Overall, the word “temporary” is probably the best way to describe this year’s unit. However, Boettger could add some solidarity. 

The Bills decided to roll with Boettger on Monday at left guard with Feliciano at right, ultimately benching Winters, which gained the approval of Bills fans nationwide. Winters did receive a small handful of snaps when Feliciano went down, much to Bills fans’ demise.

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Although it can be difficult to compare them given that they are almost always on the field at the same time, both statistical and visual analysis firmly support Boettger compared to Winters, who has looked lost all season.

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On top of all the QB pressure he allows each game, Winters has also given up three sacks, three more than any other guard on the Bills active roster (including Ford, who is on injured reserve). Meanwhile, Boettger’s overall performance has been noticeably better, despite limited playing time compared to Winters. Pro Football Focus certainly agrees, giving him a 75.9 grade, including a 94.1 score against the Patriots, compared to Winters’ 55.9 overall rating

Image via Cover1.net

As for the run blocking, it has not been much better regardless of who is manning the position. As shown in the graph above [credit: Cover1.net], the Bills lean more towards running behind Boettger’s left guard position (shown in green) than Winters’ right guard spot (shown in yellow), averaging over a yard and a half more when heading to port. That said, it’s hardly the strongest case for Boettger given the weakness of the Bills’ overall run game this season. 

*MR/ML: Middle Right/Left (combo of center and guard)

*RG/LG: Right/Left Guard

Boettger may not be the long term choice for the Bills in the long run. Ford will eventually return, and Boettger’s play is not on the same level as Feliciano. At this point, however, Boettger is the better option than Winters for the remainder of the season, which includes a four-game stretch against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos, the Patriots, and the Miami Dolphins.

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